Sunday, March 12, 2017

Justice (Part Two)

If you're new here, this is a weekly column consisting of letters written to my grandchildren (who exist) and my great-grandchildren (who aren't here yet) -- the Stickies -- to haunt them after they become grups and/or I'm dead.

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Irregularly Appearing Imaginary Guest Stars
Marie-Louise -- My beautiful muse (right shoulder) and back scratcher 
Iggy -- Designated Sticky
Dana -- Designated gentlereader (left shoulder)

Dear (eventual) Grandstickies & Great-Grandstickies,

OK class, let's review.

In Justice (Part One) I discussed the cardinal (hinge) virtue, justice. I posited that its importance is self-evident. I argued that kids in particular, and everyone else in general, are obsessed with justice. That the obsession is summarized by/captured by/epitomized by/etc. the phrase That Ain't Fair!!! Please note the deliberate (and rare, for me at least) use of three exclamation points.

I mentioned the work of Jonathan Haidt, moral psychologist (and one of my heroes). Dr. Haidt's moral foundations theory lists six foundations, one of which is Fairness/Cheating. The relevant Wikipedia article puts it thusly, "Fairness or proportionality: rendering justice according to shared rules; opposite of cheating. Their bolderization, my italicization. 

[I just made up a new word, bolderization. If you don't believe me, look it up. Oh wait, you can't, it doesn't exist. Bolderization: clicking the bold button of a word processor in order to render a word in a bolder way than other words. GRIN.]

Dr. Haidt, incidentally, didn't weave his theory from whole cloth. His work is based on numerous, and ongoing (check THIS out) experiments and studies. You should also read one of his books, "The Righteous Mind." Life-changing, mind -blowing shtuff written in clean, clear English (as opposed to psychobabble).

Anyway, please note the phrase, "rendering justice according to shared rules." In part one I pointed out that we've lost our consensus, that the late sixties ushered in something I call the Great Fragmentation. I ended the column by asking, "So, how do the members of a fragmented culture agree on what constitutes just and fair?"

[Just who is this we've you speak of cranky one? asks Dana, imaginary gentlereader.]

Good question. Hmm... I guess, no, I know, that when I talk about us, or we, I'm usually referring to muh fellow maricans (Lyndon Johnson saying, my fellow Americans). More broadly, the cultures and people of the West. I really should define my terms more in light of political correctness. Citizens of the planet Earth, please accept my insincere apology.

OK. In this particular case, I'm talking about the fragmentation of American culture. I'm also wildly oversimplifying some of Dr. Haidt's conclusions (sorry doc) and adding a few of my own. Read the book folks, you'll thank me.

H. sapiens (not just maricans) are tribal. This is because belonging to a tribe dramatically increases the chance we might live long enough to reproduce and raise our kids. It dramatically decreases the chance we will be killed and/or eaten before having a chance to do so. Also, get enough people on your team and the next thing you know you'll have civilizations and flush toilets and the like.

It's the drive responsible for us v. them. At one extreme it's total war and the demonization of the enemy. At the other, it's the drive behind competitive sports, which serve as a (usually) harmless outlet. See where I'm going here?

It's the reason why up until the sixties, America -- mostly white, mostly Christian, mostly sharing the same playground, and often preoccupied by wars with them and/or struggling to get three hots and a comfortable cot, were (sometimes more, sometimes less) on the same team.

And then the Boomers came of age in an era of unprecedented prosperity and security. A lot of wonderful things happened.  These ranged from the country officially acknowledging the obscenity of slavery and Jim Crow (mostly and eventually) and passing civil rights legislation, to landing on the moon.

Incidentally, these laws and landing on the moon were accomplished by the Greatest Generation, not by the Boomers, who will go down in history for, well, um... oh, I know! Rock n' Roll! And personal computers. Now we all have a home or pocket version of technology originally developed by the..., um, never mind.

But what happens when a generation of callowyutes, raised to take unprecedented prosperity and security for granted, go through the rebellious/idealistic (some anyway)/I ain't gonna' be like my parental units/I hope I die before I get old adolescent (which we now know typically lasts to the age of 25 or so) stage? And let us not forget to mention relatively easy access to the pill (can you say sexual revolution?) and mind-altering drugs.


[Oh, one second. Yes, we/they were raised taking the possibility of nuclear annihilation for granted (duck and cover) and we/they might also be drafted and die (the males anyway) in Vietnam.


By adolescence most realized that if the nukes were launched we'd probably all be dead anyway. Get under your desk, put your head between your knees, and kiss your ass goodbye. Ishhkabibble. As for Vietnam, pursue a deferment or learn to love (and live with) our neighbors to the North.]

Well, what happens is team America -- left, right, and (ever-shrinking) center -- starts fragmenting into cliques/gangs that divide up the playground like a prison yard.

A lot of water passes under the proverbial bridge. H. sapiens will be/were H. sapiens. And here we are.

We can go a-googling 24x7 and prove anything. How? simple. If you want to believe something you'll ask yourself if you can believe it, then you'll go looking for confirmation. You will, inevitably, find some and then you (well, not you or me of course, but most people) will stop looking.

If you don't want to believe something you'll ask yourself if you must believe it, then you'll go looking for reasons not to. You will, inevitably, find some and then you (well, not you or me of course, but most people) will stop looking.

This is the second most important thing the book taught me. That's a tease 'cause you really should read the book.

Modern tech provides a TV channel and/or a website for every taste, from the sublime to the warped and twisted. New sorta-social media platforms appear every couple of eye blinks. Sorta-social? Yup, choose your friends, real and virtual, tweak your settings (or not, the machine will do it anyway). Poof! your own customized playground of the like-minded, and you don't even have to leave the house.

[So, how do we reach agreement on anything? For example, on what constitutes justice. And what about the other cardinal virtues? Iggy, imaginary grandsticky, poses a question.]

Compromise, don't demonize. Breathe. Electronically fast -- turn off your computer and smartphone for 24 hours and go for a walk, read a book, make brownies, go to your grandstickies eighth-grade band concert.

America's newfound and ever-worsening polarization is fueled by demonization (Haidt) and the 24x7 flow of dizzinformation (me). Poppa loves you.

[Compromise!?! How can you compromise with the devil's minions!?! An imaginary troll has wandered into my personal zeitgeist. BANG! Marie-Louise, my muse, unhesitatingly pulls her piece from her garter holster, blows it's head off, and calmly begins scratching my back.]

Have an OK day.

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©2017 Mark Mehlmauer   (The Flyoverland Crank)

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